Serology testing essential, but banned in NZ

The serology tests today being demanded by experts as necessary to track the mystery resurgence of COVID19 have been banned by the Ministry of Health.

Simon Thornley, epidemiologist with the Covid Plan B group, has criticised health commentators as hypocritical in calling for serology testing to track the source of the current outbreak and assess its prevalence in the community.

Thornley said the Covid Plan B group has been calling for serology testing back in April, but by the end of that month the Ministry of Health had specifically banned the importation and sale of serology tests.

In reply to an Official Information Request the Ministry of Health said serology testing would not be conducted because even that test would underestimate the level of virus prevalence. See: https://www.covidplanb.co.nz/epidemiology/nz-govt-confirms-it-wont-test-for-virus-prevalence/

“The one test that would really tell us how the virus is moving through the community has been banned in New Zealand. Companies selling the test were called and told to stop.”

“When we called for the testing, we were criticised by the Government-favoured health commentators. Five months later, these same people are suggesting tests, conveniently forgetting they initially said they weren’t necessary.”

Thornley said that now the Government’s own favoured experts were agreeing with Covid Plan B, it could no longer resist conducting serology tests.

He predicted that based on overseas tests, the number of people who had already contracted Covid-19 would be many times the number of tested cases.

ENDS

Contact: Simon Thornley, 021 299 1752

Do we really need yet another lock down?

By Ananish Chaudhuri and Simon Thornley

The authors are members of the Department of Economics and School of Population Health respectively at the University of Auckland. The views expressed are their own.

During the Vietnam war, the well-known (and Kiwi-born) journalist Peter Arnett is supposed to have quoted a US Major as saying “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

Regardless of whether anyone actually said this or not, we cannot help reflecting on the idea behind this as we go into yet another lock-down.

Back in March, when we entered our first lock-down, the evidence was not so clear. Reasonable people could have disagreed about the sagacity of the lock-down. Some of us did but on the whole most were willing to abide by the government’s decision.

But the evidence is clear now. Lock downs are not a panacea. There is, at best, weak if any correlation between lock downs and the spread of the disease. At best, they merely postpone the spread of the infection.

When the Swedish authorities said this, the rest of the world sneered at them.

Now, there is increasing recognition that maybe the Swedes did get it right. Certainly not all of it; they did experience a failure to protect the frail and elderly. But, on balance, it appears they will emerge from the pandemic stronger than their neighbours and that in the current globalized world, lock downs are not and cannot be a sustainable solution.

A recent report from the Productivity Commission now provides support for this Swedish view by asking questions about the relative costs and  benefits of prolonging our earlier lock down. The conclusion: the costs conservatively outweighed the benefits of an extended lockdown by 95:1.

And the Swedish approach has been reiterated by Camilla Stoltenberg, Director General of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health; that Norway could have handled the disease without locking down.

There is no vaccine and if there is one, it is still some time away. The fastest vaccine ever developed, for mumps, took four years. In any event, even with a vaccine there is no way of guaranteeing that every Kiwi will take it. In fact, unless we keep our borders closed forever, we need everyone else in the world to take the vaccine too. Diseases we thought had been eliminated, like measles, have made a come-back.

Consequently, in an earlier article we pointed out that elimination is not and never was a realistic strategy and suggested ways of moving forward and resuming normalcy including opening our borders.

It was certainly inevitable that the disease would recur. What was not inevitable was the steps we took along the way and the economic and social costs of those steps.

Did we really need to spend the time, effort and resources to force people into quarantine? Could we not trust them to self-isolate like we did earlier with prosecution of violators? Like Sweden, New Zealand is a high trust society. Why does our government have such little faith in its citizens? Why does it claim for its police the right to enter people’s home without warrants to enforce quarantine?

And if a government does not trust its citizens, then why and how long should the citizens continue to trust the government?

Even with preponderance of evidence that lock downs are mostly useless, our government has responded to an outbreak with another lock down. The initial rationale for a lockdown was protecting our hospitals, but now with cases linked to only one household, the threshold for pulling the lockdown trigger has dropped considerably.

Is this really sustainable: To lurch from one from lock down to another with breaks in between?

Yes, resuming normal life will lead to more cases and there will be more deaths due to Covid-19; just as there will be more deaths from auto accidents, flu, pneumonia, respiratory illnesses, loneliness and self-harm. We also now appreciate that the age distribution of deaths from Covid-19 is indistinguishable from background mortality.

Maybe we need to better confront the idea of our own mortality. Such a conversation is topical given the upcoming referendum on euthanasia.

If we could shut down all motorized vehicles, then the reduction in pollution will save many lives that are lost from respiratory illnesses. But, no one suggests that since this is not a realistic proposition. Instead, we set emissions standards in such a way that the social benefit of driving or flying is equal to or higher than the social cost.

Contrary to the culture of fear besetting us, Covid-19 is hardly the threat it has been made out to be. Both the case fatality ratio (number of deaths divided by the number of reported cases) and the infection fatality ratio (number of deaths divided by the number of people potentially infected) is relatively low and much lower than say Ebola or other corona viruses such as Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). It is now clear that lockdowns are a blunt instrument that is disproportionate to the threat posed by this virus.

Salvation Army counts social cost of lockdown

Loss of income, housing and jobs as a result of Covid-19 will create a  “underclass of social need”

“We’re seeing people who have lost their jobs and households unable to meet rent and mortgage costs.

In the past week, the organisation delivered 5895 food parcels, a 346 per cent rise from the week before the Cobid-19 lockdown.

https://www.salvationarmy.org.nz/research-policy/social-policy-parliamentary-unit/latest-report

Health expert says second Covid-19 wave possible

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/121123046/coronovirus-health-expert-says-second-covid19-wave-possible

Health experts feel censored over alternative lockdown plan

A group of health experts who believe the Government’s lockdown response has been too harsh say… They’re concerned the Government is getting all its scientific advice from an echo chamber as it prepares to decide our immediate future on Monday.

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/politics/2020/04/coronavirus-health-experts-feel-censored-over-alternative-lockdown-plan.html

Prolonged lockdown dangerous

A prolonged lockdown will cause economic issues that lead to broader, indirect problems for our health and wellbeing, according to Vice Chancellor of Victoria University, Professor Grant Guilford.

https://www.newsroom.co.nz/ideasroom/2020/04/09/1122155/will-an-extended-lockdown-cost-more-lives-than-it-saves